THE 1998 HELENE HUDSON MEMORIAL LECTURE: It takes chutzpah: Oncology nurse leaders

Esther Green


Chutzpah, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1996) is a slang term from the Yiddish language which means shameless audacity. Chutzpah has been used to identify people with courage who take on situations that others avoid and somehow achieve the impossible.

Tim Porter-O’Grady (1997) recently wrote that management is dead, and has been replaced by process leadership. Health care organizations have made shifts from hierarchical structures to process or program models where people have dual/multiple reporting/communication relationship. In this new orientation, management functions of controlling, directing, organizing and disciplining are replaced by process leadership functions of coordinating, facilitating, linking and sustaining (Porter O’Grady, 1997).

Herein lies the challenge for oncology nurse leaders: “what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Leadership is not a function of job title. The evidence for this is clear in current practice... There are no/few positions of nurse leaders. Titles have changed to eliminate the professional discipline, and reflect a non-descript orientation. The new titles are process leaders, program leaders, professional practice leaders.

Nurse leaders need new points of reference to take in the challenges of influencing, facilitating and linking. Those points of reference are: principle-centred leadership, integrity and chutzpah. This presentation will focus on examining current thinking, defining key characteristics and attributes, and using scenarios to illustrate the impact of leadership. We, as leaders in oncology nursing, must use chutzpah to make positive change and long-term gains for patient care and the profession of nursing.

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